NJ proposal: Students with special needs can unmask all day
As school districts decide whether or not they will require face coverings and masks for staff and students once Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order expires in March, a Republican lawmaker is introducing legislation meant to ensure that certain students are never mandated to wear a mask again.
Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, announced on Thursday that she'll introduce a pair of bills related to the issue.
One would allow students with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities to unmask throughout the school day. The bill would apply to districts that plan to continue with the mask mandate beyond March 7 — districts in Newark and Plainfield have already announced that the mandate will stick around.
"Children with special needs may struggle to communicate with their classmates or teachers while wearing a mask," Corrado said. "While we wait for Governor Murphy's mask mandate to end, his overbearing executive order is continuing to impede the progress of countless children."
Currently, students with special needs can be exempted from the rule — a move that requires documentation from a medical professional — if their individualized plan calls for the need to be unmasked. Under Corrado's bill, these students wouldn't have to be granted an exemption.
Corrado's other measure would allow students to unmask during speech-language therapy. Its introduction will came days after Fox News reported about a New Jersey mother's fight to keep her 3-year-old son in speech instruction therapy — she was originally told that if her son wasn't masked, he couldn't receive services, according to the report.
Corrado said her measure relates to speech therapy in schools, not at private practices.
"A child in speech therapy needs to look at their instructor's eyes, mouth, and facial expressions to learn how to form the correct speech sounds needed to communicate with others," Corrado said.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.